PLAINVIEW — The first few months of Colton Klemke's senior season were some of the hardest of the young man's life.
Early in the 2022 campaign, the Lubbock-Cooper closer was on fire, a prelude to what should've been a prosperous season. But Klemke's year was derailed by a stress fracture in his L4 vertebrae that took him out of action.
On the shelf, watching his teammates begin their efforts to right the wrongs of 2021, Klemke could only admire as the Pirates started rolling through the competition. Meanwhile, he couldn't use his right leg at one point. It was tough to walk, even tough to breathe.
So when Klemke took the mound in the top of the seventh inning Saturday afternoon, it was the pinnacle of his comeback journey and that of the Pirates.
Randall snapped LCP's 23-game winning streak in the first game of their Region I-5A quarterfinal series on Thursday at Wayland Baptist University's Wilder Park.
The Pirates knotted things up with a walk-off double in the eighth Friday night. It was do or die, and as Klemke proved by making a return to the mound at all, he and his teammates weren't going to give in.
Klemke got the final three outs to give Lubbock-Cooper a 9-1 victory, securing a 2-1 series win over the Raiders and downing a worthy challenger in the process.
"That first game, I don't think it affected us at all," Klemke said. "Honestly, most of the team thought we needed to lose. ... We had that target on our back. It honestly lit a fire under us again, got us all motivated again for us to get that fight back and I think the score proved that today."
LCP head coach Brad Wuensche likened the series to a three-round fight.
Randall came out victorious in the first round while the Pirates survived the second. With about a 14-hour turnaround between games two and three, the tides had turned to Lubbock-Cooper's favor.
"Momentum's huge in the playoffs," Randall head coach Cory Hamilton said. "The longer you keep positive momentum on your side, the better. They rolled that into a lead in the first inning today and added four runs in the second and they were able to play really comfortable. It made us a little bit tight, made us a little bit anxious and we didn't respond as well."
While the Pirates have surged since the start of the season, Klemke has had to work his way back into the fold. He did about three or four hours of physical therapy each day, incorporating late-night stretching sessions and yoga to build up the muscles around his back. Once he returned on Senior Night, it was as if he'd never been hurt at all, though the pain having to miss almost the entire regular season was perhaps the hardest part.
"It killed me," Klemke said. "It really challenged me. I got a lot closer with God throughout that injury. It took a lot out of me, but I'm very glad to be back and helping the team again."
Klemke was ready to help the Pirates in the first two games of the series but wasn't utilized. Lubbock-Cooper has plenty of pitching and Wuensche opted for other guys.
When his number was called to close out the deciding game, Klemke was ready.
"Credit to him," Wuensche said of Klemke. "He stayed locked in the entire time. Bringing him in in tough situations is kind of what we're moving to and it's really good to have that guy in your back pocket all the time."
The Raiders, who return just about everybody and will drop down to the 4A classification, got the valuable learning experience that Lubbock-Cooper received in 2021.
"Great season," Hamilton said. "They're going to continue theirs and we had a great season and I'm really proud of our guys."
Klemke and the Pirates will move on to the region semifinals against Mansfield Legacy next week.
They live to fight another day.
Game 3: Lubbock-Cooper 9, Randall 1
Randall 000 001 0 — 1 3 2
Lubbock-Cooper 242 010 x — 9 13 0
Jake Scott, AJ Lucero (2), Hagen Sheed (3), and Hagen Haffner (5). Will Qualia and Colton Klemke (7). W — Qualia. L — Scott. 2B — LCP, Kyle Lewis (2) and Cutter Douglas. 3B -- LCP, Kyler Jordan. Records: Lubbock-Cooper 29-7, Randall 27-9. Note: Lubbock-Cooper wins series 2-1.
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Colton Klemke leads Lubbock-Cooper baseball to series win over Randall